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What Will Microsoft Look Like in 10 Years? 5 Scenarios

Microsoft's Windows franchise has been the company's mainstay for so long, it's difficult for those of us who are intimately familiar with the company to think that anything would change there. Yet, the changes have been many and will affect the company in profound ways into the future: Bill Gates left the helm and so did the vision; a dozen or so key movers have moved on to other companies, some with a bit of success; and companies with new and innovative technologies have mounted challenges to Redmond's cash cow product lines. Add to that, Microsoft has pointed some of its business cloudward, and who ever thought they'd do that?

With that in mind and with this year drawing this decade to a close, we predict a few possible and farfetched scenarios for the company in the next 10 years (not all of them dependent on the other).

Ballmer Retires from Helm
Prediction Scale: 10 (Highly likely)
Scenario: Ten years from now, Ballmer will have cashed out some of his stock options five years hence and headed out to greener pastures back in his home state. During the 5 years, he helps to rebuild Detroit, putting in lots of money to replace the city's long-gone auto industry with IT help desk centers.

At the helm, will be someone young with a ponytail (unfortunately, that 'do is back in style), and not anyone we've ever heard of who has worked with Microsoft -- yet.

Microsoft's Biggest Revenue Market? China
Prediction Scale: 3
Scenario: With the rest of the world cooling to Microsoft's core software, it only stands to reason that Microsoft would take drastic measures to generate revenue in the Chinese market by getting the backing of the government to crack down on software piracy and turn some of that free software into revenue. How? Microsoft gets a secret deal with the government that it gets a nice percentage of the licensing fees catching pirates and converting them to legit copies of Windows and Office.

As a result of that coup, Microsoft and Baidu.com work out an ad revenue sharing deal that helps Baidu expand into Western markets through Bing.com, a scenario that seems all too familiar for some reason.

Microsoft Merges with Apple
Prediction Scale: 1 (Not very likely, but never say never)
Scenario: Apple's market cap continues to go up, and that might not mean much now. But if trends are what they are, five years from now, Apple's bar on the chart might be towering over Redmond's. Apple has been incredibly strong in areas that Microsoft wants to play in -- mobile and consumer goods -- and it has been able to show it can sustain a winning streak. Microsoft's smartphone strategy hasn't worked, and lags far behind Google and even Nokia.

Meanwhile, Apple's Mac and iPad hardware have been assuming their positions onto more corporate desktops and now it seems like a merger with a dwindling Microsoft, whose Windows 9 still has 60 percent of the enterprise desktops, is a credible move against Google.

Microsoft is playing in and gaining momentum in the cloud, but competition from Google and Amazon is stiff and some other smaller players who'll emerge in the coming years will gobble up shares there. Meanwhile, Apple sees the writing on the wall, with more than half its profits coming from the newer generation iPhone and iPad, and those products are getting long in the tooth and Google's Android just keeps making things tough for everyone. With Apple and Microsoft looking up at Google (and Jobs no longer at the helm), a merger is starting to make sense.

Microsoft Splits Up
Prediction Scale: 5
Scenario: The Redmond giant finally does the sensible thing and becomes three new companies -- business solutions, developer solutions, and entertainment.

Curiously, the business solutions company excludes IE, which is Microsoft's way of telling the world that the browser wasn't integral to the OS.

The breakout division, though, is the developer solutions splinter group, which finally figures out how to create tools as well as provides better ways to market solutions to customers. Its custom consulting arm begins to rival IBM in the consulting market.

The entertainment company begins a downward spiral as it tries to compete with Google Games, a virtual gaming platform built out of a merger with Electronic Arts and Blizzard Entertainment.

Microsoft's Biggest Product: Microsoft Cumulus 3.51
Prediction Scale: 7
Scenario: The company once known for looking outward is now known for looking upward. It's taken five years to become the "cloud company," and folks remember VMware like they remember Stac Electronics. Its aptly named cloud OS is a hit, whereas its Azure 2015 R3 misses.

So, what happened with Windows? It still dominates the file server and database market. And we all know what misfortune lies ahead for companies that claim to dominate those segments.

Got any other ideas where Microsoft will be? Add your comments here or send me an e-mail. I'll pick the coolest ones to receive a Redmond T-Shirt.

Posted by Michael Domingo on 11/04/2010 at 11:59 AM

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